Six Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members were on board a military helicopter that crashed off the coast of Greece during a training exercise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Thursday.
During a press briefing in Ottawa, Trudeau said the Cyclone was deployed on board the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton for Operation Reassurance.
Trudeau said one casualty was recovered and five are missing.
“All of them are heroes,” Trudeau said. “Each of them will leave a void that cannot be filled. On behalf of all Canadians I want to offer my deepest support to their families, their friends, their shipmates and their fellow CAF members.
“This is another very hard day for Halifax, for Nova Scotia and for our Armed Forces families.”
Chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said the one sailor confirmed to have died is Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, 23, of Nova Scotia.
On Thursday afternoon, the Department of National Defence confirmed those who remain missing.
- Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, Pilot, originally from New Glasgow, N.S.
- Capt. Kevin Hagen, Pilot, originally from Nanaimo, B.C.
- Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Air Combat Systems Officer, originally from Trois-Rivières, Qué.
- Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, Naval Weapons Officer, originally from Truro, N.S.
- Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator, originally from Guelph, Ont.
CAF said Thursday that all primary family members of those involved in the crash have been contacted.
Multiple NATO countries are in an ongoing search-and-rescue operation in the Ionian Sea, hoping to find survivors.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said no stone would be left unturned in the search for those still missing.
“One thing I can assure you (is) that all resources have been brought to bear in this search effort,” he said in an interview with Global News.
The cause of the accident is currently unknown.
‘There are no words’
Sub-Lt. Cowbrough’s father confirmed his daughter’s passing a Facebook post Thursday morning.
“There are no words. You made me forever proud,” Cowbrough’s father wrote in a Facebook post. “I will love you always, and miss you in every moment. You are the bright light in my life taken far too soon.”
The Regal Heights Baptist Church in Dartmouth, N.S., where Cowbrough was an active member, also confirmed her passing.
“The unity that she brings and the energy that she brings just encourages everybody around her. She’s always looking for people to serve and help out wherever it’s possible and we’re very proud of her,” said pastor Jason Cole.
“The world needs a lot more Abbigails,” he said.
In a statement to Global News, Cowbrough’s friend Kate Kimove said she was an accomplished piper, competing and performing in various pipe bands and solo competitions.
“Abbi gave 100 per cent to absolutely everything she did and never took anything for granted. Her bright spirit will be missed by all of her family, friends and acquaintances,” said Kimove.
“She made an impact on everyone she met.”
Cowbrough was a piper for Union Fire Club Pipes And Drums and played with 12 Wing Shearwater.
“We are thinking of all those affected by this tragic loss and we will miss our friend Abbigail,” said Michael Sears, a member of the band, in a statement.
Just last week, while on board the HMCS Fredericton, Cowbrough paid tribute to the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting with a bagpipe performance of Amazing Grace.
Cowbrough is also being remembered by the local veterans UN-NATO group, of which she was also a member.
“Every Saturday morning we have a tribute for all of our fallen,” said Chief Petty Officer Ben Broome of Veterans UN-NATO Nova Scotia.
“We have a book of remembrance on the table of remembrance. And it is going to be so sad to have to add her picture and who she was into that book.”
The group plans to hold a vigil in honour of Cowbrough and the missing crew members on Sunday.
A small tribute has already been set up at the Shearwater military base in honour of those on board the helicopter.
Greece’s prime minister has expressed his condolences as the search continues.
“I express my grief over the crash of the Canadian helicopter in the Ionian Sea last night,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday in Parliament.
Mitsotakis added that he would contact Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express his condolences.
In a statement, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil extended his sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of Sub.-Lt. Cowbrough
“Based in Nova Scotia, Sub.-Lt. Cowbrough served her province and country as a marine system engineering officer aboard HMCS Fredericton,” McNeil said. “Every day, brave men and women in uniform across our country put their own lives at risk, sacrificing so much to secure peace and freedom for us all.”
“As we await more details of the search efforts for the other five military members aboard the flight, my heart is with all Canadian Armed Forces members and their families.”
Nova Scotia RCMP also issued a statement of condolence.
“Today, our hearts hurt for those who were on board the (CAF) CH-148 Cyclone and their family, friends, comrades and community,” the RCMP tweeted. “We’re also sending thoughts of support to those on board the HMCS Fredericton and their loved ones during this exceptionally difficult time.”
Approximately 240 members left Halifax aboard HMCS Fredericton in January. They had just marked their 100th day on operations and were due to return to Canada in July.
— With files from Elizabeth McSheffrey, Mercedes Stephenson and the Canadian Press